Going . . . DOWN? (Bwahahaha!)
Published on September 20th, 2010 | by L. Caldoran0
The generically-titled “Devil” might more accurately be called “M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘No Exit’ for Dummies.” It’s apparently not enough for a handful of people with incompatible personality flaws to be confined to a small space, annoying each other senseless for an indefinite period: why, no, each of them has to die a fairly random, violent death, and . . . oh, hell, why not just throw in Satan himself, secretly posing as one of the captives so the film can marginally qualify as a mystery? “Hell is other people.” Indeed.
We can tell that “Devil” is not exactly going to be a subtle exploration of spirituality in a contemporary urban setting with the opening flyover shot of Philadelphia skyscrapers, “artistically” flipped 180 degrees and set to a portentous score. Could it be that the characters of this film are going to find their lives turned . . . upside-down?
A largely-unnecessary narration informs us that Satan can enter a space once someone has committed suicide there. This is never explained in detail, but presumably stems from the traditional Catholic view of suicide as a mortal sin. (One might ask why other mortal sins don’t also conjure the Devil, but one would be thinking too much.)
After a man jumps from a skyscraper window while clutching a rosary, we are introduced to five loosely-drawn, fairly obvious “types”—an obnoxious class clown, a crabby old woman, a stoic former soldier, etc.—who become trapped in an elevator in that very same building. The script lets them bicker awhile as a pair of security guards watch on a closed-circuit camera and attempt to fix the problem in a secular fashion, eventually enlisting a requisite detective-who-lost-his-faith-following-a-personal-tragedy: then the lights go out and people start to die.
Yes, despite record unemployment, perpetual war, environmental disasters, and so forth, the Devil is apparently still so bored that he has to resort to dicking around with a few Philly professionals stuck in an elevator. C’mon, Satan, you can do better than that! Any minor hints of existential dilemma are soon replaced with heavy-handed morality: wallet-snatching, for example, is deemed a hanging offense.
“Devil” is riddled with lazy writing that often strains belief. For instance, the security guards attempt to interact with the trapped quintet through a malfunctioning intercom system which allows them to be heard inside the elevator, but can’t transmit any sounds back to them. It takes an absurdly long time for security to suggest that the captives write down their responses and hold them up to the camera, yet even then, not one of these city-dwelling office workers is carrying a writing utensil. And, perhaps inevitably, the film ends with the revelation of a major coincidence in the eye-rolling we’re-all-connected vein.
Satan does have a mildly-startling big reveal late in the film, sporting “Event Horizon”-style black oilslicks for eyes, yellow “Exorcist” contacts apparently having gone out of fashion. Here’s a tip for all of you tortured sinners worried about the Devil randomly showing up to take your soul and ruin your day: apparently all you have to do to keep from being forcibly dragged to Hell is admit that you’re very, very sorry.
M. Night Shyamalan did not actually direct “Devil,” though it is, pretentiously enough, credited as being “from the mind of” the infamous twist-master in advertisements—which feature a glowing red triangle that is presumably an elevator call button, but more immediately resembles the fortune-telling window of a particularly goth Magic 8-Ball. “Outlook not so good.” Indeed.